Each declared mayoral candidate not named Milton Street gathered at the Independence Visitor Center on Friday morning for the Forum on Hospitality and Tourism.
The Liberty View Ballroom event was hosted by five major tourism-industry organizations*, moderated by 6ABC morning anchor Matt O’Donnell and closed to the public.
Among the “travel-industry agenda” issues asked of the candidates during the 90-minute forum was attracting more visitors to the city (and overall promotion), outsiders’ perceptions of Philadelphia, tax plans, the region’s selling points, cabs vs. Uber and Lyft, labor conflicts at the Convention Center and the impact of aggressive panhandling on tourism.
What follows is a noteworthy comment from each candidate (listed in alphabetical order).
Lynne Abraham: “I don’t get the sense that Philadelphia has a bad reputation at all. We’re known as ‘boo birds,’ but I think that’s just a passing fad” which doesn’t impact the city’s ability to draw visitors. When asked about residential parking, she hearkened back to the time when residents threw “eggs, lettuce and tomatoes” at former Mayor Richardson Dilworth when he suggested moving cars off South Broad Street.
Nelson Diaz: “Pat’s has the best cheesesteaks. I eat there over Geno’s because I speak Spanish [and] remember that whole ‘Speak English’ thing.” Asked post-debate whether he ate at Geno’s before that “Speak English thing,” he said he did, but has not since done so. He also asked attendees to visit his campaign’s website for more details on his tax plans.
Melissa Murray Bailey: “We’re not a very ‘open-arms’ type of community. Visitors need help getting around. We don’t have great reputation when it comes to that. … When I told people I was moving from Singapore to Philadelphia, not a single person said ‘good for you.’ They asked me ‘why, when you can move somewhere like New York City?”
Jim Kenney: “The DNC will be paid for mostly with outside money. Our job is to make sure visitors are safe, visitors are happy and that we put our best foot forward. … The Olympics [is an event] I would like to pursue” as mayor. Asked about aggressive panhandling, he noted that many “homeless” people are those who have shelter but head out to feed addictions; social-service organizations can help address their impact on tourists and beyond.
Doug Oliver: “The biggest thing we can do to attract business is fix our schools,” he said, noting that not having a solid public-school system drives more businesses away than any tax concerns. Oliver also called on the tourism industry to promote attractions in the city’s neighborhoods as opposed to the traditional Center City and Old City loops. (NewsWorks explored that latter issue last year in looking at Germantown’s inability to draw tourists to its attractions.)
Anthony Hardy Williams: “Forums are wonderful. There’s a record of truth. At a mobility forum, [my opponents] said they rode bikes. Now they’re saying they take Uber. Maybe they put their bikes on top of the Uber cars?” (This quote drew an instant response from Diaz spokesman Barry Caro saying Williams was not at the aforementioned mobility forum; for his part, Diaz reiterated that point on stage, and then broke out his transit passes.) He also noted that “I am bullish on Philadelphia.”
*The Mayoral Candidates Forum on Hospitality and Tourism was hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Independence Visitor Center, Visit Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.